Weird article on Slashdot today, claiming “IE8 May Be End of the Line For Internet Explorer“. It links to a blog post by some guy called Randall C. Kennedy who explains how he’s been hearing that Microsoft are thinking of moving to Webkit, or even their brand new research browser called Gazelle. Now, I may not have the hot industry contacts that Randall C. Kennedy undoubtedly has, but I find the whole story a little hard to swallow. Firstly, Kennedy (and Slashdot) seem to be a little confused over the separation between a browser and its layout engine. Internet Explorer is a browser, but it uses a layout engine called Trident to perform the actual rendering of websites. Trident can also be used externally to IE, by Windows applications that need to display HTML. Webkit is also a layout engine, one that is used by Apple’s Safari browser, and Google’s Chrome browser. It is entirely concievable therefore, that IE could switch its layout engine to Webkit and still be “Internet Explorer”. I don’t think it’s likely, I don’t believe Microsoft would want to such a crucial component of a Windows system relying on what is still a mainly Apple controlled project. Especially since they’d still have to support Trident anyway, due to the mass of legacy code that would require it.

It’s the mention of Gazelle that is really confusing. Gazelle is an experimental browser from Microsoft Research, that takes a more OS-like approach to architecting the browser, and is supposedly more secure and reliable. What the article seems to miss though is that according to the Gazelle technical document…

“We have built an IE-based prototype that realizes Gazelle‚Äôs multi-principal OS architecture and at the
same time utilizes all the backward-compatible parsing, DOM management, and JavaScript interpretation
that already exist in IE.”

In other words, Gazelle uses Trident for its layout engine! So even if IE 9 was based on Gazelle, there’d still be a mass of the old IE technology hanging aroudn. I suppose it’s possible that they could rip Trident out of Gazelle and use Webkit instead, but it seems a highly unlikely scenario. For one thing, if they were going to do so, why not do it from the start? Gazelle is a relatively new project, and if they knew Webkit was the direction they were planning to go, it would make sense to choose it from the start.

Overall, I think it’s quite likely Microsoft will adopt Gazelle, or something similar, for a later version of IE (perhaps not IE9 though). It’s architecture is the way most browsers seem to be going. But I think any announcements on the death of Trident, or of the “Internet Explorer” brand are highly premature.